Dresden museum raid: ‘Largest art theft in history’ as items worth up to €1bn snatched by thieves

Intruders believed to have cut electricity to vault before breaking through window

Samuel Osborne,Peter Stubley
Monday 25 November 2019 13:41 GMT
CCTV of Dresden jewel burglary

Thieves have stolen priceless jewellery from one of Europe’s largest collections of art treasures at a German museum.

The intruders broke through a iron grille protecting a ground floor window at Dresden’s Green Vault in the early hours of Monday morning.

They then used an axe to smash a display case in the Jewel Room and stole several high-quality pieces including a diamond epaulette.

Police suspect the burglars may have set fire to an electrical distribution box near the Augustus Bridge to disable the alarm system at the museum.

The thieves escaped the scene in an Audi A6 which was found burnt out in an underground car park a few kilometres away.

Police said they were alerted shortly before 5 am by unarmed museum security guards who had spotted two burglars on video surveillance cameras.

CCTV footage shows a torch-wielding intruder examining the exhibits before breaking into a display case.

“We have not identified a perpetrator and nor have we yet made any arrests,” said police spokesperson Marko Laske.

Officials are still trying to determine what was taken but the German newspaper Bild reported that the stolen items could be worth up to €1bn, making it possibly the largest post-war art theft in history.

The previous largest is thought to have occurred in 1990 with thieves escaping with $300m of item from a museum in Boston.

Marion Ackermann, head of the Dresden state museums, told the BBC that they were “priceless – we can’t put a figure on it”.

The theft was a blow to the whole state, its premier, Michael Kretschmer, said.

“It’s not just the State Art Collections that was robbed, but us Saxons,” he tweeted. “One can’t understand the history of Saxony without the Green Vault.”

Germany’s interior minister, Roland Woeller, told reporters: “This is a bitter day for the cultural heritage of Saxony. We will do everything in our power not only to bring the cultural treasures back, but to capture the perpetrators.”

The collection was founded in the 18th century by August the Strong, Elector of Saxony and later King of Poland.

One of its best known treasures – the 41-carat Dresden “Green Diamond” – was away on loan to New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art at the time of the break-in.

The jewellery showcase which was broken into during the burglary at the Green Vault in Dresden (EPA)

Other exhibits in Dresden include a table-sized sculpture of an Indian royal court from the 18th century, made out of gold, silver, enamel, precious stones and pearls, and a 1701 golden coffee service by court jeweller Johann Melchior Dinglinger, decorated with lounging cherubs.

The treasures of the Green Vault survived Allied bombing raids in the Second World War, only to be carted off as war booty by the Soviet Union. They were returned to Dresden, the historic capital of the state of Saxony, in 1958.

Additional reporting by agencies

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